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Antlions

Antlions or doodlebugs are insects best known by their larvae, which have small, fat bodies with a huge sickle-shaped pair of mandibles. Antlions belong to the family Myrmeleonidae, of the order Neuroptera, which also includes the lacewings. Members of this order are named for the delicate venation on the wings of the adult, but most people are probably more familiar with the larval stage of antlions.

Some species of antlions simply chase down their prey of small insects, while others construct a pitfall trap, or sand trap, which they dig in the loose soil. This is done by pushing the sand away from the center of a circle while walking backwards. This trap, shaped like a funnel, can measure up to 2 in (5 cm) across with the antlion larva hidden at the bottom.

Ants and other insects stumble upon the antlion trap and lose their footing. The loose nature of the soil prevents them from regaining their balance as they slide down the side of the pit into the waiting jaws of the antlion. The prey is caught and injected with a paralyzing secretion. The body fluids are then sucked out and the empty exoskeleton is discarded. If the prey manages to regain its balance and footing, it is greeted with a shower of sand that is thrown by the antlion, causing it to lose its footing again, often with the same deadly result.

Adult antlions superficially resemble damselflies. However, compared to the damselfly, the antlion is a very feeble flyer, has a very complex wing venation, and has clubbed antennae almost a quarter inch (0.6 cm) long. Unfortunately, adult antlions are not easy to find, and little is known about their behavior. Adult antlions mate in the summer and the female lays her fertilized eggs in sandy soils, which are required by the larvae. Depending on species, from one to three years are spent as a larva that eventually pupates, usually in the spring, in a sand-encrusted silk cocoon at the bottom of the sand trap. One month later an adult antlion emerges from the pupal cocoon.

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